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40 Year-Old Virgin, The Print E-mail
Friday, 19 August 2005
ImageI’m glad to see Steve Carell becoming a comedy star; I find him more appealing, more versatile and a lot funnier than, say, Adam Sandler. Carell looks to have a rosy future, since “The 40 Year-Old Virgin” is awfully damned funny. But more than that: like the “American Pie” movies, it’s as much sensitive and understanding of its central characters as it is gross and inventive in its humor. Carell knows where his talents lie, and with Judd Apatow—making his directorial debut—was one of the writers of the movie. He’s had good bits in “Anchorman,” “Bewitched” and “Bruce Almighty,” as well as starring in the TV series “The Office.” He’s arrived.

Here he’s Andy, the 40 year-old virgin of the title. He’s worked for years at a home electronic equipment store, stuck back in the stockroom. He lives by himself (of course) in an older apartment in the San Fernando Valley. Over the years, he’s clearly slipped into a life that’s comfortable and reassuring, but hardly happy. His idea of a good time is to watch “Survivor” with the retired couple upstairs. He rides a bicycle to work and collects monster movie stuff and hero action figures; he has a poster for “Mystery Science Theater” above the bed where he wakes up every morning with another dispiriting erection. But the movie does not suggest that he’s still a virgin with no significant other in sight because he’s a nerd; instead, it more enterprisingly (and accurately) suggests he is a nerd because he has no significant other. Cause and effect are in the right order, which allows Andy to be a nice guy to whom good things haven’t happened rather than a hapless loser.

Other guys who work at the store, David (Paul Rudd), Jay (Romany Malco) and Cal (Seth Rogen) are a little concerned about him. Bearded beefy jock Cal (who, interestingly, is Jewish) suspects Andy might be a serial killer; when Andy describes three hours happily spent in making an egg salad sandwich—only to find he forgot the bread—Cal is even more convinced that Andy might be trouble.
But the trio kind of like him—and Andy is a very likeable guy, pleasant, smart and reasonably clever—so they invite him to play poker after hours one night. When they begin comparing sexual adventures, they soon realize that Andy hasn’t HAD any sexual adventures, so they take it as their duty as friends to see that Andy gets laid. They’re stunned by Andy’s action-figure-filled apartment. “Dude,” an appalled Cal demands, pointing at a figure of Richard Anderson, “Is that the Six Million Dollar Man’s BOSS?”

One of the better ideas in the script is that even though these guys are sexually experienced, overall they’re much bigger losers than they think Andy is. David is carrying a blazing torch for a girlfriend who walked out on him a couple of years ago, and he’s on the verge of becoming a stalker. Jay has been in jail; he compulsively cheats on his long-time girlfriend. Cal doesn’t seem to have any girlfriends, just women he picks up for one-night stands. But these guys think they can show Andy what’s what. Cal says he should go after drunk chicks in bars. “In every man,” he solemnly declares, “there is a code saying attack drunk bitches.”

Things don’t go too well. At one point, the three decide that one problem Andy has is that he’s too hairy. So they accompany him to a wax-method hair removal parlor, and big swatches of Andy’s hair are ripped off. He screams curses at the amused attendant, but keeps assuring her to go ahead. Steve Carell gave his all for this scene: that’s his real hair really being ripped off in this very funny if squirmy scene.

Acting on his pals’ advice, Andy tries the “ask questions” gambit on a very attractive bookstore clerk (Elizabeth Banks). You know the bit: respond to everything with another question. That this leads to her being very attractive to him surprises the others, but confirms what we have been learning: Andy’s lack of experience is much more due to a good heart and lousy luck than anything else.

Take, for example, Trish (Catherine Keener), who runs a nearby store devoted to selling stuff for people on eBay. She and Andy are pretty relaxed with one another and begin dating. But she’s a little older than Andy, a divorcee with a couple of daughters (one of whom thinks Andy is a dork), and doesn’t want to rush into a sexual affair. This is fine with Andy, who’s afraid his lack of experience will dismay any potential partner.

There’s not a lot of plot to “The 40 Year-Old Virgin;” instead, it’s a situation viewed over time, with well-observed details. Like Andy is actually a very good cook; he cooks only for himself, of course, but he’s been doing it a long time and serves himself beautiful-looking breakfasts. He’s an authority on all these action figures; he has 47 different never-out-of-original-wrapping G.I. Joes, for example, an early Aquaman doll and a Creature from the Black Lagoon mask. He’s a low-key sort of guy, but witty and observant; he assures Trish’s insolent teenage daughter (Kat Dennings, very good) that he speaks fluent sarcasm, which takes some of the wind out of her wisecrack sails. And later he’s there when she needs an adult.

Apatow and Carell are very canny about how they show us that basically Andy is a better person, and better off, than his three friends, who eventually begin to use him as a shoulder to cry on. Yes, Andy wants to get laid, but most of what he encounters reinforces his somewhat vague idea that it’s better to find the right person than a series of willing ones. Of course, it doesn’t help when the drunk girl he picks up vomits on him, or when the guys set him up with a tall, muscular drag queen. “You plant a seed,” they tell him, “let it grow into a plant, then f**k the plant.” Sometimes the advice he gets is a little confusing: Cal quietly assures him to “be kind of a dick. Be David Caruso in ‘Jade.’” And what are hood rats?

The use of music in the movie is inspired. When Andy and Trish realize they’re falling in love, the soundtrack bursts into the title theme from “The Greatest American Hero,” both good affirmation music and a direct tie to Andy’s hobbies. The movie ends with an all-out musical number, a complete fantasy to one of the more unlikely possible selections (but perfectly chosen) with the entire cast singing and dancing on green grassy hilltops.

The movie isn’t all a bright shiny bundle of joy. At 116 minutes, it’s too long, for one thing; there are a lot of jokes about homosexuality (“I know YOU’RE gay because….”) which verge on homophobia, though gays often find this kind of thing funny themselves. The movie kind of wanders around midway through. Andy’s boss (Jane Lynch) showing sexual interest in him is a peculiar idea that leads nowhere.

But overall, “The 40 Year Old Virgin” is a lot of fun, and a great bid to establish Steve Carell as a comedy leading man. He isn’t as tied to the same character as are Sandler and Will Ferrell, a major factor in his favor. Sure, the movie heads exactly for the place you’re expecting—Andy getting laid at last—but the trip there is a lot of fun.

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